Directed by Dean Parisot
Written by Jon Hoeber, Eric Hoeber and others
Starring Bruce Willis, John Malkovich, Helen Mirrin, Anthony Hopkins and more
Some things really do get better with age.
“Red 2,” the sequel to the 2010 hit about a group of not-so-retired spies, is the rare sequel that improves on the already excellent original. The movie continues the series’ inspired blend of serious action and almost giddy comedy, but this time the mix is even more seamless. There’s also a surprising amount of depth, with both the characters and story displaying more maturity, complexity and subtle sweetness.
For anyone out there not familiar with “Red,” the movie follows a group of retired spies who have to go back out in the field again after the government tries to kill them (the title is an acronym for Retired, Extremely Dangerous). It happens again in “Red 2,” when a Wikileaks document about one of their old cases sends three different countries hunting for a bomb and puts John Malkovich and Bruce Willis back on everyone’s hit lists.
The action is excellent, with all the car chases, gun fights and explosions a fan of the genre could possibly want. There’s also a healthy dose of all those little toys that make spy movies so fun, from secret keys and dosed wine to secret passages that happen to be behind the back wall of a pizza place. The cast clearly has fun playing with all of them, transmitting that sense of delight on to the audience.
Nearly all of the original cast is back, including Mary Louise Parker as Willis’s very civilian girlfriend and Helen Mirrin as a former MI-5 hitwoman who still has a selection of corpses in her freezer. Mirrin continues to symbolize all the best things about the “Red” universe, able to deliver an indulgent smile about youthful silliness or a precise shot between the eyes with equal aplomb.
This time, though, the other characters have grown up a little as well. Willis and Parker’s relationship, which stretched credulity in the first movie, has developed the deep, familiar rhythms of a couple who have just passed their first year of marriage. Their squabbles are believable (and often hilarious), while the small domestic moments between them show the genuine sweetness and durability of their bond.
Malkovich is still as wacky as ever, but a genuine concern for the people in his life is a much more fundamental part of his character. His attempts to give relationship advice, particularly under heavy gunfire, are some of the funniest parts of the movie.
The new cast members fit in beautifully. Anthony Hopkins dances between nearly every character archetype he’s ever played, and the question of where he’s going to end up adds a genuine frisson of danger to the film. Byung Hun Lee, an assassin with a vested interest in taking out Bruce Willis’s character, has a streak of decency that makes him far more than a terrifyingly talented enemy.
In “Red 2,” most people are far more than they seem to be. In some ways the movie is a celebration of second chances, an acknowledgment that age and job status don’t have to stop us from love, adventure, or breaking into the Kremlin.